Silk dance program gives females chance to get 'circus fix,' build strength

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Cattibrie Bayens, 10, of Whitehall, played one day on her swing set, wrapped her arms around the ropes of the swing and flipped through.

Her mother, Jennifer, told her she should take lessons, then later passed by the Fullbody Fitness Club in Brentwood and said, “ ‘Oh, my gosh, they have the silks,' and I put her in the class.”

Ally Citro, 16, of Ohiopyle wanted to learn how to do high-flying routines using long, flowing fabrics since she saw a Cirque du Soleil show. Her mother found the Fullbody class online, and now the two drive one hour each way so that Ally can learn how to use the silks.

The two girls along with seven women are in an intermediate and advanced class at Fullbody Fitness called Silk Dance, Aerial Fitness and Mixed Apparatus.

“I think it works all the muscle groups,” said Lauren Tan, 22, of Bethel Park, a former gymnast and contortionist who had to give up traditional gymnastics after suffering a herniated disc. Doctors advised her that the pounding impact of landing jumps would be bad for her back.

Tan can do many of the gymnastics forms she once did, but in the air. The “silks” catch her as she flips around — no pounding necessary.

“I was looking for another way to get my circus fix; this is a new way to get upside down,” Tan said. “It works your arms. It's great for cardio, too, (with) all the climbing.”

The class uses the same kind of strong fabric “silks” that Cirque du Soleil uses, firmly attached to a rigging that hangs from the steel beams of the Fullbody studio on Brownsville Road. The students use the silks, the lira or large hoop, a trapeze and a rope.

The students began Saturday's session with a warmup that included various stretches. Then they went to the silks.

Wrapping their arms and legs with the lengths of fabric, they started by hanging low to the ground and lifting their legs out to work the core. Then they climbed higher, wrapping their limbs with the silks. Then, with all the kinetic energy of a seasoned Cirque performer, Cattibrie flipped downward through the silks in what is called a drop. She has been taking lessons for more than a year.

“The first time I ever saw her do a drop, I was nervous,” her mother said. “Now, I only get nervous when it's a new one.”

Cattibrie said her ultimate goal is to perform someday with Cirque du Soleil.

“It relieves all my stress and feels great,” the fifth-grader said.

But the class has other benefits.

“It is such a full-body workout,” said Kelsey Keller, 27, of the North Side, the instructor. Keller taught dance classes in high school and college and trained as an instructor at Infinitely Aerial of Columbus, Ohio.

“It's definitely helped my upper-body strength,” said Nicolyn Aleprete, 29, of Trafford, who has a degree in dance from Slippery Rock University and is a dance teacher. “It's always been something I've wanted to try. For me, this class is a stretch. I was never courageous or a gymnast.”

Although Citro, Tan and Aleprete have dance and/or gymnastics backgrounds, studio owner Darieth Chisholm said those experiences are not a prerequisite for taking a beginners' silk dance class.

“It looks intimidating, but you'll be amazed what you can learn in a short amount of time,” Chisholm said.

“I have people tell me, ‘Oh, I have no upper-body strength,' and they're now climbing the silks,” said Keller, whose students have included people in their 40s and briefly, a 70-year-old. “You just build up to it. There's nothing like flying. It's addicting.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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